We moved into our current home in the summer of 2020. When Halloween rolled around, there were just five occupied homes on our relatively new block in this growing community. As I drove through our neighborhood last fall, I had dreams that Halloween would be insane because there were so many homes with young and school age children. I bought a ton of candy in anticipation of the throngs I expected. Whether it was pursuant to the pandemic or our mostly unoccupied block, we had two small groups of trick-or-treaters last fall. I consumed most of the candy that was leftover. Boo.
This year, with the pandemic concerns lessened somewhat and with all of the homes on our block finally occupied, I went to Costco and picked up two large bags of candy. Tonight, we had maybe 25 trick-or-treaters, all of whom were treated to a massive handful of candy. It’s almost 9 pm here now, and if I want to get rid of the ton of candy that is left in my house, I need to pray for some wayward teenagers to come and raid bowls I set in our driveway under a neon sign. What I hoped would be a sugar rush was actually a sugar crash. Sigh.
I am hoping that as the years go by, we continue to see an upward trend in little peoples darkening our doorstep dressed as adorable lions or scarecrows or firefighters or unicorns or fairies. Until then, I need to either stop buying so much damn candy or find a way to turn it into a fuel source.
In the meantime, I just saw a holiday ad on television, so it appears we’ve already moved on. Maybe I’ll just stuff the holiday stockings with leftover Halloween candy. Problem solved.
As our children grow, most of their changes occur imperceptibly. One moment you are gazing into their chubby, little cherub face and the next you are looking directly into the eyes of a slender-faced, high-cheekboned teenager and wondering what wicked sorcery changed them overnight. And while their adult appearance seems to develop in the proverbial eye blink, the transformation in their personalities as they mature from tantrum-tossing toddler into too-cool-for-school teenager seems to take forever. My sons both pitched fits in public places that I swore would last longer than the Cenozoic Era. I watched with grateful glee as the tantrums decreased in duration over the years, evolving from epic, hour-long fuss fests into eye-rolling disgust lasting two seconds from start to finish. It was marked forward progress and it was much easier to notice because it directly impacted the level of peace and quiet in my daily life. Over the years, I have become guardedly optimistic about my sons’ potential to become respectful, open-minded, kind, and decent adult humans because I have witnessed their emotional growth firsthand and been present to overhear other adults as they remarked on it too.
On Halloween evening last weekend, our oldest son did something that proved he is more mature than his meager fourteen years might assert. Right around 6:30 pm, as costumed children began serenading us with Trick-or-Treat calls from our front step, our sons finally decided to get their teenage acts together and get into costume for what Joe proclaimed would be his last year trick-or-treating. For the auspicious occasion, he had chosen a demented, shiny skeleton mask in his first-ever attempt to dress in a costume that could potentially unnerve small children. As he was donning his scary costume, however, there was a wardrobe malfunction with the mask that required last-minute triage with super glue. He put the mask on after the quick-fix solution and discovered the fumes from the not yet dried glue made his eyes water. Not good. We waited a few minutes for the glue to dry and he tried again. Still no go. Everyone else in the trick-or-treating party was ready to hit the road, but Joe’s costume was suddenly out of the question. I immediately apologized for not foreseeing the potential sticky situation in my instant glue fix, but he brushed it off without another thought.
In years past, our ADHD son would likely have in the same situation devolved into a weepy mess and declared the holiday a total loss. He might have thrown himself on his bed and cried in frustration. This year, though, was different. I was the one who was irked and disappointed about the worthless $25 mask that could not be worn. He was calm and collected. Reasoning that he was already dressed in full black, he decided he could easily transition his costume from scary death apparition to scary mime with some white face paint. (Mimes are a freakishly scary Halloween costume, you have to admit.) I dug around in the costume bucket only to discover there was no viable white makeup to use for his transformation. Dammit. Joe and I started brainstorming. I ran to the basement to my containers of old Halloween costumes and searched for something he could use in a pinch. The least feminine item I was able to turn up was a headband for a skunk costume. I brought it to him.
“What about this?” I asked, adding, “I also have a black cat headband, but the ears have a glittery, bright pink in them.”
“I can be a skunk,” he announced confidently and without the slightest hint of teenage embarrassment or disappointment.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “I can probably figure out something better if you give me a few more minutes to dig around,” I explained.
“Nope. The skunk is good. I can be a skunk.”
We found some white felt fabric in my office and safety pinned a stripe down the back of his otherwise all black outfit. I pulled out a black eyeliner pencil and drew a skunk nose and whiskers on his face. He put on the headband and checked the mirror.
“I look a little bit like a girl,” he assessed, “but I don’t care. I’m not missing trick-or-treating. Luke and Anthony might make fun of me, but I can deal with it. I’ll just tell everyone I’m doing the stanky leg,” he said, giving a nod to Silento’s Watch Me song.
(Thanks to Joe, I spent the entire evening with the watch-me-whip-watch-me-nae-nae chorus running through my head. And now it is probably in yours. You’re welcome.)
I handed him a flannel pillowcase and he was off, taking on the mantle of leader of the pack with confident aplomb. We’ve spent years working with Joe, both explaining and demonstrating ways to transform lemons into lemonade and chicken shit into chicken salad when things did not go his way. While Luke has always been capable of adjusting quickly when things went awry, Joe has struggled for years, full of sulks and things-always-go-wrong-for-me woe and hours of perseveration. Each meltdown has brought with it an opportunity for growth, and we’ve watched it occur slowly. But this time was markedly different. This time there was zero meltdown. This time he pulled a page out of my fix-it-on-the-fly handbook and adapted to the unfortunate change in plan without a second thought. I’m not sure I have ever felt prouder than I did as I witnessed his determination to jump over this pothole on the greatest of all kid holidays. He did at fourteen something I was not able to accomplish until my mid forties. He made a conscious choice not to take himself so damned seriously. And he rocked it.
As for me, I am going to follow Joe’s example and continue to work at not taking myself quite as seriously. Also, I will never again hear that ridiculous Watch Me song without thinking about the way inspiration and strength can come from the oddest things…like the stanky leg.
Unlike Valentine’s Day, which I can’t stand, I love Halloween. It’s not that I enjoy the ghouls, ghosts, goblins, and gore. I simply relish the opportunity to dress up and the excuse to buy and consume tons of candy without guilt. In preparation for this perfectly mild Halloween evening, I purchased five large bags of sugary candy to share with kids. I put on my cat ears and drew on some whiskers and went out with the kids to trick-or-treat on a couple streets while hubby took the first shift of candy distribution. There’s s something about going through this ritual with my boys the way my parents went through it with me that makes me feel good. Halloween is a family night in our house. It’s the only holiday when we don’t have to share our boys with relatives, and that in itself makes it special to me.
Our boys attend a Christian school where there are no costumes allowed on Halloween. Each of my sons have several classmates who are not permitted to trick-or-treat at all. In fact, Joe was telling me that one classmate stays home and hands out candy to other kids who come to their house. I’ve always been baffled by those who don’t participate in Halloween. I understand that their disdain for Halloween stems from a religious belief that this is the devil’s holiday. (Joe actually gave me this entire lecture today on why he believes this cannot be a holiday celebrating, as one friend told him, the “devil’s birthday” because Lucifer was created as an angel and not ever born in the traditional sense at all, so how could Halloween be a holiday celebrating a birth that never actually occurred? I don’t know. He lost me about two seconds into that explanation.) But, I was raised in a fairly strict Catholic household, and my parents had no reservations about Halloween. Until my boys began at this school, I really had no idea that there were so many Christians who do not allow any sort of Halloween activity in their household.
Curious about the reasons why some people choose not to celebrate what, to me, seems like such an innocuous and fun occasion, I did some research tonight. The Christian Broadcasting Network article I read claimed that Halloween is linked too closely to Wicca, the official religion of witchcraft, and “those who celebrate Halloween either are unaware of its roots, or are intentionally promoting a world where evil is lauded and viewed as an ultimate power.” Huh. I guess you have to toss me into the category of those who aren’t totally aware of Halloween’s roots because I do not believe I am intentionally promoting evil and its power in the world by letting my kids dress up as superheroes and Star Wars characters and take candy from our kind neighbors. As I read more and more, I began to better understand where these families are coming from with regard to their stance on Halloween. They truly believe that Halloween gives power to Satan. They want no part of that. I get it. The devil is scary business.
I would never tell someone they should allow their children to trick-or-treat. But, I have to say that by keeping your kids from enjoying some fun and candy with friends on the basis that Halloween is a holiday that promotes Satan’s power in the world, you seem to be giving the devil even more power than he deserves. I’m not a practicing Wiccan, so Halloween isn’t a religious holiday for me. It’s just a chance for me to draw on some whiskers and follow my kids through the neighborhood to ensure they are being polite as they collect what will be dessert every night in our household until Valentine’s Day. I choose not to examine too carefully its origins because whatever Halloween once was is not what it is now. In today’s society, in our culture, it’s not devil worship, it’s sugar worship. Plain and simple. And, any day when someone willingly hands me a free bag of Skittles is all right in my book. Devil be damned.
A few days ago I was looking through Halloween costume ideas online. Not exactly sure why I was doing this given the fact that our boys made us buy their costumes about a month ago when the Halloween costume stores began popping up in previously abandoned retail spaces every five miles or so. Joe has his Captain America costume, a costume that fits his personality so well that I think he should wear it 24/7. It’s just my favorite thing ever. Joe is all about being an upright citizen, protecting the innocent, and keeping an eye out for the bad guys. Luke, on the other hand, is the bad guy. He picked an elaborate, black, ninja costume complete with face mask and two swords that attach to his costume in the back. He would also be carrying nunchucks and throwing stars if we let him, but we decided that was a bit more weaponry than is actually necessary to obtain a pillowcase full of free candy.
At any rate, during the course of my random costume search, I came across homemade costumes to match the Lego brand. Luke is a Lego fanatic, so I thought they might interest him. Against all greater wisdom, I showed him some of the costumes and told him that if he liked one maybe someday I could make him one…the operative word there was “someday” because he already had a costume and therefore didn’t need a new one. Then, last night, four nights after my original mention of the Lego costumes, Luke casually mentions that he’s excited to wear his Lego costume. What???? I froze.
“Luke, honey,” I said, “I thought you were excited to be a black ninja.”
“You said I could be a Lego dude,” he replied. “I like that better.”
“Ummmm….I didn’t mean for this Halloween, sweetie. Halloween is in a couple days. I’m not sure I can make a costume on such short notice,” I said.
His brow furrowed.
“Oh,” he said, clearly disappointed.
I sat there silently loathing myself for bringing it up when I knew there was no way I’d have the time, energy, or inclination to create a Lego minifigure costume with paper maché head in a two short days with oodles of other obligations in my way. That was a rookie parenting mistake. I knew better. Still, Luke looked sad. I hate that. So, you guessed it. I made rookie parenting mistake number two.
“Well…I might be able to make you a Lego brick costume,” I said. “I know it’s not a minifigure, but it would still be in the Lego theme,” I said with doubt in my voice. “Would you like that?” I asked.
“Yes. Definitely,” he said. Then, he added for punctuation, “Perfect.” It was a done deal.
“Okay,” I replied. “If I can find the materials and if I can find the time, I will do that for you.”
So, this morning after I dropped the boys at school, I got to work. An employee at Joann’s was emptying out a box of freight on the sales floor. From half a store away, it sure looked like exactly what I needed. I swooped closer, stealthily eyeing it from an aisle away and sizing it up before approaching the employee and asking if she’d be willing to give it to me. She did. First task completed and for free. After that, I was off to Michael’s for blue, satin-finish spray paint. My last stop was Hobby Lobby, where I found the round boxes I would need. Roughly $37 in supplies, and I was ready to assemble.
At home, I pulled out my ruler, a pencil, some big scissors (although a box cutter would have been much nicer), and my trusty glue gun. When I bought that stupid thing, I had no idea why I would ever need it. It was on sale and someone had told me once that everyone should have one, so I bought it. I have since come to a great appreciation for the beauty of the hot glue gun. It helped me put together a burlesque costume, adhere badges to a Cub Scout uniform, and patch together several book report projects. There’s nothing like the smell of hot glue in the morning. I fired that thing up and in less than an hour of measuring, cutting, taping, tracing, and gluing, had the whole costume assembled and ready to paint. Two cans of spray paint later and she was done. Is it perfect? According to my perfectionist mind…no. There are things about it I would do differently if I had another $40 in supplies and a couple more days to fiddle around with it. But, I don’t, and it’s definitely workable as is.
When Luke walked into the house and saw it, I realized why I had my moment of weakness and made my rookie mistake. My mom sewed our Halloween costumes. I used to think she did it because she was trying to save money. After today, though, I no longer think that. When you make something for your child and you see their face light up when they see it, for just a minute you almost feel like Superman. For a split second, they know you’re amazing. And, as cool as that is, you know that somewhere in the deepest recesses of their minds, they not only know that you are amazing but also that they are cherished and important. And, that’s way cooler.